Chop suey, the stalwart of the Chinese takeaway, is not something you will find in the domestic kitchens of China but rather an American-Chinese dish of origin unknown. Not to be confused with chow mein, a noodle dish, or American chop suey, a pasta dish, chicken chop suey is served with rice. A stir fry dish, with lots of liquid that is thickened into a glutinous sauce with cornflour, chop suey has a greater proportion of vegetables than chicken. The defining factor of chop suey is the deeply savoury, thickened sauce. Chow mein by contrast has no thickening agent added. And is, of course, served with noodles.

You can use any vegetables you like for this recipe, just be sure to add them at the right time. We have created an initial step that has longer cooking than your average stir fry. Firstly, cooking down some of the onions and peppers with the celery creates a really savoury base. Then, cooking the chicken in stock until reduced not only adds more flavour, but also makes the chicken breast soft and tender. The rest of the vegetables retain the requisite crunch; including the rest of the onion and peppers. Please include the celery even if you cannot abide the stuff. It belongs here and you won’t recognise it.

Some recipes use sesame oil for the cooking but we find this takes away the delightful retro edge of the dish. In the same vein, don’t be tempted to use freshly ground white peppercorns; the cheap powdery stuff is exactly what you need here. Essentially this is comfort food, the stuff of childhood memories, so resist all temptation to gussy it up.

Recipe for American chicken chop suey

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 red pepper, sliced

1 stick celery, chopped small

1-inch ginger, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

200g chicken breast, chopped

175ml chicken stock

1 tsp ground white pepper

1 carrot, julienned

½ Savoy cabbage, shredded

50g beansprouts

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp oyster sauce

2 tsp cornflour in a little water

  1. Heat a wok over a high heat.
  2. Add the oil.
  3. Add half of the onions, half of the red peppers, and all the celery.
  4. Fry to soften.
  5. Add the chicken, then the ginger and garlic.
  6. Fry for a minute then add 100ml of the chicken stock.
  7. Keep the heat high, but let the wok simmer until the stock has all but disappeared.
  8. Add the white pepper, then the carrots. Stir fry for a few minutes.
  9. Add the cabbage and the beansprouts, with the rest of the red peppers and onions. Stir fry for another minute or so. You want bite, yet also softness. The final dish should be unctuous not virtuous.
  10. Add the rest of the chicken stock, the soy sauce, and the oyster sauce.
  11. Add the cornflour liquid and stir to boiling. The sauce will not thicken until it boils.
  12. Tip out onto plates/bowls and serve with plain boiled rice.